Natalie Khosrozadeh.
Rachael Clark.
Cheri Lascala.
Lexi Burns.
Hope Barns.
Jessica Kruebbe.
Rachel Grant.
Shelley Collins.
Elizabeth McGee
Jennifer Beougher.
Camille Collins.
Terri Jessen.
Dawn Gillis.
Courtney Mazzella.
Brittany Maroney.

Natalie Khosrozadeh

Director of Marketing, Bar Louie

Biggest professional struggle that you overcame: 

Gender biases in the workplace can be manifested in various ways and can creep in subtly. We tend to overlook direct experiences of stereotyping until it happens on more than one occasion. As leaders in the biz, we are teaching the next generation of fellow leaders, and it is important for us to make strides towards bridging the gap for women in business. Challenge stereotypes through exemplary performance, seek mentorship and sponsorship, advocate for others, and never forget to advocate for yourself. 

Advice to women trying to move up the ladder in the restaurant industry: 

Embrace opportunities to learn outside your comfort zone. There are so many paths and opportunities to learn and grow in the restaurant industry. Take the time to learn cross functions and be a good business partner. I’d also say, be an authentic leader. Build trust among colleagues and those you supervise. Be intentional with your team and create room for them to show their unique contributions.

Favorite meal/item on your menu:

Cocktail: Chicago Ave Martini.

Menu Item: Steak Frites.

Check out the QSR version of our Women in Restaurant Leadership roundup here.

Rachael Clark

Human Resources Manager, Bad Daddy’s

Biggest professional struggle that you overcame: 

Learning to set my own boundaries to prioritize a work-life balance. In the ongoing journey of leadership, it can be easy to have your default be to simply take on all the tasks and work extra hard to prove that you are of value and deserving of the role. While putting in hard work is definitely important, it should not come at the sacrifice of your own work-life balance. This is something that I really struggled with early on in my own leadership development. I would take calls at all hours, miss parts of the kids’ soccer games or concerts because I needed to attend to a work call, and I found myself getting burnt out because I was not giving myself permission to take a break and unplug. I knew that if I wanted to take the next step and truly make a long-lasting impact, I was going to need to find that balance, set those boundaries for myself and hold that line when the needs of our industry inevitably push back.

Advice to women trying to move up the ladder in the restaurant industry: 

You are unique and deserving of the opportunities that are set before you. Don’t be afraid to take up space in the room or let someone else’s tenure make you doubt your own knowledge that got you to where you are today; own who you are and show up every day as your most authentic self.

Favorite meal/item on your menu: 

The perfect day consists of a chorizo green chile burrito from Good Times Burgers and Frozen Custard for breakfast, followed by the FriedMozzarella Burger from Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar for dinner.

Check out the QSR version of our Women in Restaurant Leadership roundup here.

Cheri Lascala

Area Director, Bad Daddy’s

Biggest professional struggle that you overcame: 

One of the biggest professional struggles I had was making the move into being a manager and working more hours while trying to be a great mom.

Advice to women trying to move up the ladder in the restaurant industry: 

Being in the restaurant business for over 40 years, a business often run by men, I knew it was important to stay focused on exceeding company goals, so  that when the time came, the choice was clear to promote me. I was also very fortunate to have mentors that helped me along the way. It’s been incredibly rewarding to watch more and more women take on leadership roles in our line of work. I can recall being in a meeting that only had two women in it and then a couple years later, the women were half of the group. Any accolade or promotion I receive, I take great pride in knowing that I’m further establishing a path for the further growth of women in our industry.

Favorite meal/item on your menu: 

Bad Daddy’s Mushroom Burger paired with savory Truffle Fries is unbeatable.

Check out the QSR version of our Women in Restaurant Leadership roundup here.

Lexi Burns

VP of Human Resources and Learning & Development, Twin Peaks

Biggest professional struggle that you overcame:

Work/life balance.

Advice to women trying to move up the ladder in the restaurant industry:  

It’s important you have mentors and people with experience in your industry to provide continued knowledge, best practices, and support. Advocate for yourself, your skills, and the things you have accomplished. Take risks and push for change. You must be able to lead and develop people effectively. Leadership is the most essential skill when moving up the ladder. If you do not have leadership qualities and an understanding of how to treat your employees, you can forget about the rest. Last, don’t forget about the people that love you at home on your way up the ladder.

Favorite meal/item on your menu: 

This is a hard question to answer because I love everything we offer. If I must pick, you can never go wrong with a 29-degree draft beer and a made-from-scratch chicken fried chicken with mashed potatoes and jalapeño gravy.

Check out the QSR version of our Women in Restaurant Leadership roundup here.

Hope Barns

Vice President of Financial and Strategic Planning, Twin Peaks

Biggest professional struggle that you overcame: 

Creating work/family balance when trying to build a career and raising a child.

Advice to women trying to move up the ladder in the restaurant industry: 

Learn not only in your own area of expertise, but the rest of the organizational disciplines as well.  It’s crucial to growing into a well-rounded Business Leader. 

Favorite meal/item on your menu: 

Chicken Street Tacos.

Check out the QSR version of our Women in Restaurant Leadership roundup here.

Jessica Kruebbe

Marketing Director, Milkshake Concepts

Biggest professional struggle that you overcame: 

In the restaurant industry, there’s a classic tug-of-war between the doers and the dreamers. The Operations crew, with its boots firmly planted on the ground, gets things done, day in, day out. The Marketing team members—me included—often find our heads in the clouds, dreaming up the next big thing. I found myself in the middle of this, a Marketing Coordinator in a place where Operations and Marketing were more like oil and water than peanut butter and jelly. Our attempts at working together often ended up in a stalemate, with both sides holding their ground, at times making collaborations messy and confrontational.

Wanting to bridge this gap, I took it upon myself to step into their world. I went to our general manager and pitched the idea of me diving into the operations side of things. I pulled shifts as a floor manager, alongside my duties in marketing. It was a move to show I wasn’t just about lofty ideas but was willing to understand and tackle the nitty-gritty of their daily challenges.

Being in the trenches with them, showing I was all in to learn and improve things from their perspective, started to change our relationship. Slowly but surely, the Operations team began to see the value in our marketing dreams, willing to put in that extra effort and bear the costs to bring those visions to life.

Even after I made my next career move, the bonds I formed during that time remain strong. I’m still in touch with the managers I worked with back then, a testament to the bridges built during those days of blending dreams with the dirt under our nails.

Advice to women trying to move up the ladder in the restaurant industry: 

Women tend to put incredible and unnecessary pressure on ourselves to look and perform in a way that pleases others. If you’ve heard the Barbie movie monologue, you know what I’m referring to. I have found that fixating on the challenges of being a woman tends to create mental barriers that prevent us from upward mobility. For example, imagine you’re in a meeting with senior male leadership. If you were to meditate on the fact that you are younger, less experienced, and the minority, you may syke yourself out from commanding the room. Instead, take a moment to acknowledge your situation, exhale, and refocus on what’s important–positively impacting your business and achieving your personal goals. If you’re striving with integrity, focus, and grit, you don’t need life hacks on being a woman in the industry. Be yourself, and the rest will come to you.

Favorite meal/item on your menu: 

Vidorra’s Queso Blanco loaded with chorizo in a 400-degree molcajete bowl. After 5 pm, I add a mango Gold Digger margarita for maximum enjoyment.

Check out the QSR version of our Women in Restaurant Leadership roundup here.

Rachel Grant

Director of Training, The Greene Turtle

Biggest professional struggle that you overcame: 

My biggest professional struggle would be balancing career advancement with family responsibilities. Navigating workplace expectations, negotiating flexible work arrangements, and finding support for my husband, pets and household duties when I’m away for weeks at a time. Thankful that I have learned effective time management, clear communication with employers, and have a supportive husband and extended family.

Advice to women trying to move up the ladder in the restaurant industry: 

My advice to women trying to move up the ladder in the restaurant industry would be to Believe in Yourself! Have confidence in your abilities, believe in your worth, and don’t let gender stereotypes or biases hold you back from pursuing your dreams and reaching your full potential.

Favorite meal/item on your menu: 

The Maryland Crab Dip. It’s my go-to.

Check out the QSR version of our Women in Restaurant Leadership roundup here.

Shelley Collins

VP of HR, The Greene Turtle

Biggest professional struggle that you overcame: 

The biggest professional struggle I have overcome is courage. I have times when I was just trying to survive but had to thrive in uncertain times. Whether it be company leadership changes, company bankruptcy, or the pandemic I had to transform myself, my team, and my approach to the business. I have learned to evaluate a situation quickly, transition on a dime, and chart a new course in the face of great uncertainty that has made me courageous.

Advice to women trying to move up the ladder in the restaurant industry: 

Take the Initiative. If an opportunity of any kind, even outside your comfort zone to show leadership and management your abilities, take it!  I believe showing your initiative is a pathway to a seat at the table. You are not only demonstrating great leadership skills, but you are also showing yourself how capable you are. You are not alone in taking initiative, find a mentor. I am honored to have worked with the best of the best women in the restaurant industry. Watch them, follow them, learn from them.

Favorite meal/item on your menu: 

Maryland Crab Cakes.

Check out the QSR version of our Women in Restaurant Leadership roundup here.

Elizabeth McGee

Chief Executive Officer, Ruby Slipper

Biggest professional struggle that you overcame

Furloughing 2,500 team members during COVID and rebuilding an off-premises-only business.

Advice to women trying to move up the ladder in the restaurant industry: 

Build relationships with peers/colleagues who are already winning and those with a hunger to always  “get better.” Ask lots of questions and challenge yourself to truly be open to feedback and learning.

Favorite meal/item on your menu: 

Sweet Heat Chicken & French Toast Bites.

Check out the QSR version of our Women in Restaurant Leadership roundup here.

Jennifer Beougher 

Chief Financial Officer & Chief Administrative Officer, Ruby Slipper

Biggest professional struggle that you overcame

Abrupt transition from fast-paced growth concept to managing every penny through COVID then rebounding after vaccine and ramping the business back to fast-paced growth concept again.

Advice to women trying to move up the ladder in the restaurant industry: 

Don’t be afraid to roll-up your sleeves, get dirty and get the work done when necessary. But, also pull out of the weeds and be strategic. It’s a tough balance. Build trust with your team and with your business partners. Take time to understand what’s important to others and how you can best work together to make both of you and the company successful.  

Favorite meal/item on your menu:  

Specialty Pancakes, most notably Queen Cake Pancakes.

Check out the QSR version of our Women in Restaurant Leadership roundup here.

Camille Collins 

Executive Director of Marketing, Ruby Slipper

Biggest professional struggle that you overcame:  

During COVID, shifting from mostly visitor-driven marketing strategy in tourist destinations to developing virtual and off-premise strategies that engaged with and drove local business.

Advice to women trying to move up the ladder in the restaurant industry: 

Challenge yourself to continually learn – to always improve and expand your skill set. It’s easy to keep the status quo and do what’s comfortable but always having an eye out for opportunities to bring new tools and skills to the table will not only help your business grow but also puts you at a competitive advantage in the workforce. Plus, it’s fun to learn new things.

Favorite meal/item on your menu: 

The Peacemaker Benedict. With the opportunity to mix and match any two of our delicious bennies it’s a win-win when you can’t decide which one to choose.

Check out the QSR version of our Women in Restaurant Leadership roundup here.

Terri Jessen

Vice President, Operations, Rock N Roll Sushi

Biggest professional struggle that you overcame:  

It has been a slight challenge going from the franchisee side (20 years experience) to the franchisor side. Although the support and guidance over the years from both sides have greatly helped step into this role. I have had great leadership from franchisors in my past that enabled me to emulate their leadership as well as great support currently in my new role that both supports me and helps me grow daily. 

Advice to women trying to move up the ladder in the restaurant industry:  

Be yourself and be confident in your abilities.

Favorite meal/item on your menu: 

What is not to love about our amazing menu. Besides our unique sushi and amazing hibachi, I really love all of our house-made sauces. I have always been of the camp that “sauce is boss!” and it certainly rings true in this concept. The food items are fantastic on their own, and once you add any one of our sauces/dips, etc, the recipes hit next level tastes.

Check out the QSR version of our Women in Restaurant Leadership roundup here.

Dawn Gillis

Chief Information Officer, Golden Corral

Biggest professional struggle that you overcame: 

The biggest struggle that I overcame was believing in me and my skills and delivering on my leadership capabilities while being overlooked for promotions that my peers enjoyed. I used that as fuel and worked tirelessly to refine my leadership abilities, evolve my people skills and build my competence in strategic planning. I had a clear vision of what I wanted to achieve, worked hard, adapted, and stayed focused.

Advice to women trying to move up the ladder in the restaurant industry: 

Find a company that allows you to be your authentic self. Cultivate the business relationships with all levels of the organization to learn what makes the organization thrive and the business profitable. Have a vision of how you can improve the business around you and be bold in bringing your ideas for modernization to the business. Recruit those around you to share your vision and be flexible to the ideas of others in the development and execution of the strategy to achieve the vision. People around you will grow, and you will progress in your career. The restaurant industry is evolving to meet the changing demands of its customers. While serving food and providing a positive customer experience is still at the industry’s core, the industry’s processes and technologies must transform to meet the objective of being profitable under the economic pressures of our time. 

Women juggle the challenges of people care and home economics every day. We must find efficiencies to manage it all every day in our daily lives. Applying these life experiences in our professional lives can make a noticeable difference to a business. Women have what it takes to make organizations great while nurturing and caring for people.

Favorite meal/item on your menu: 

Fried Chicken, yeast roll and green beans.

Check out the QSR version of our Women in Restaurant Leadership roundup here.

Courtney Mazzella 

Vice President of Client Service, Champion Management

Biggest professional struggle that you overcame:  

My own insecurities of thinking that because I became a mom people would think that I don’t work as hard. This challenged me to work smarter and harder while learning to balance and navigate the beautiful chaos of a career and motherhood

Advice to women trying to move up the ladder in the restaurant industry: 

Believe in yourself and have the confidence to surround yourself with strong women who support you, challenge you, and bring out the best in you. Never forget that you deserve a seat at the table, speak your truth, and most importantly, be kind. 

Favorite meal/item: 

Brussels Sprouts Tempura from JINYA Ramen Bar, the SOOOCALI from Dog Haus, and Raising Cane’s Crinkle-Cut Fries, all paired with a Dirty Blonde (29 degree draft beer)from Twin Peaks.

Check out the QSR version of our Women in Restaurant Leadership roundup here.

Brittany Maroney

Head of Marketing for Dividend Restaurant Group (Sullivan’s Steakhouse and Eddie Merlot’s) 

Biggest professional struggle that you overcame: 

Cutting your chops in a male dominated, type A industry like the restaurant industry is not for the faint of heart. This sector moves fast, is filled with brilliant leaders and can be fiercely competitive. I think many that know me would find it hard to believe that I (yes, I) I battled imposter syndrome early on in my career. I’d defer to those with more industry experience, with the louder voice or simply those I didn’t think I could convince otherwise. Over time, I realized that my unique perspective and skills were valuable assets, ones missing from the conversation when I didn’t pipe up. I now manage that same way. I try to listen to my team, more then I talk. I encourage them to step up with ideas and I reassure everyone in the room their perspective adds to the conversations. Ladies, don’t shy away from finding your voice, even in a room filled with louder ones.

Advice to women trying to move up the ladder in the restaurant industry: 

Building a network of industry besties has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my journey in the restaurant industry. These connections aren’t just colleagues; they’re confidants, collaborators, and champions. Over time, I’ve cultivated relationships with like-minded professionals who share my passion for innovation and excellence. Whether it’s seeking advice on navigating challenges, vetting potential vendors, or brainstorming creative ideas, I know I can turn to this core group for support and insights. What sets these relationships apart is the genuine camaraderie and mutual respect we share. We celebrate each other’s successes and lift each other up during setbacks. Together, we form a tight-knit community where knowledge and expertise are freely shared, and where collaboration trumps competition.

Favorite meal/item on your menu: Oh, don’t make me choose. I am so lucky because we have two amazing brands to pick from. I’d say my go to at Eddie Merlot’s is the Mojo Shrimp and Scallops. Give me anything with Manchego cheese and I am in! At Sullivan’s Steakhouse I am loving our Pan-Seared Chilean Sean Bass “Hong Kong Style.” It’s a winner every time.

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